Recovery

Tomorrow, it will be a month since I left Iceland, and I’m still not recovered. I don’t know if I ever will be. How does one recover from love? How does one go back to the invisible chains of a daily routine and real-life job, when all one wants to do is wander free with an infinite supply of money?

After Iceland, perhaps all my senses were heightened. Everything I felt in my heart while there and even after, was felt 4 times more, perhaps. Rough estimate.

I felt alive. I did things that made me feel alive there. While I would have preferred to include a certain someone I love dearly as more than a friend on that trip, it was not to be. But having her there would have made it literally perfect. A place I love with a person I love.

At the beginning of my trip, I wrote a post about grieving lost love, and now I find myself in the same spiral. Grief doesn’t just magically end or go away with time. While time helps, it’s always there. Same love I mourned then, different love I mourn now… what’s the difference, anyway? What do you do when you found your love, but they were not meant for you? In a lasting, real way? A person, a place… How do you move on and assimilate whatever love and learning you can carry with you into your daily life that is meant for you?

The lyrics of a particular Eminem song float through my mind, as they often do, when I’m feeling a bit off. It would be perfect if this song was on his Recovery album, but alas, it’s from his Relapse album.

“Lately I’ve been hard to reach, I’ve been too long on my own
Everybody has a private world where they can be alone
Are you calling me? Are you trying to get through?
Are you reaching out for me, like I’m reaching out for you?

I’m just so fuckin’ depressed, I just can’t seem to get out this slump
If I could just get over this hump
But I need something to pull me out this dump,
I took my bruises, took my lumps
Fell down and I got right back up
But I need that spark to get psyched back up
In order for me to pick the mic back up
I don’t know how or why or when I ended up in this position I’m in
I’m starting to feel distant again
So I decided just to pick this pen
Up and try to make an attempt to vent
But I just can’t admit
Or come to grips with the fact that I may be done with rap
I need a new outlet”

I feel like I need to come to grips with a few things of late, including lost love of a person and a place, but also, like Eminem, that very thing that got him where he is today. Eminem made a name for himself in rap. He earned his fame and began a solid career in rap. Where is he now? He’s working on this and that, but he’s not quite in the limelight as he was during the peak of his career.

I, too, have been contemplating the next chapter of my life. After my sabbatical across Europe, I began looking into next steps for me, and possibly moving on from a company I’ve been working with for the last 11+ years. I know what you’re thinking about 11+ years doing anything – because I’m thinking it too:

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Making a new career move has been a long time coming. There was a time when I was passionate about achievement at work, getting promotions and raises, developing staff who worked for me, and getting involved in meaningful projects in diversity and inclusion with my company. That passion has dwindled to the blue shadow of a flame in the work arena.

With depression, a common symptom is loss of interest and pleasure in things that used to be enjoyable, once upon a time. One can withdraw from family and friends, and stop doing those things that used to bring happiness. I’ve lost any interest or pleasure in work, and do not attempt to form the meaningful connections that used to lead to friendships with co-workers outside of work.

On the down low, I’m putting some wheels in motion for more compensation, for ownership in an employer, more benefits, less responsibility, and hopefully, more passion. Trying to sell myself in job interviews has been interesting; I will say that. When asked what experience I have, especially from my 3 years living and working in Australia, I usually jump to this default answer:

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Then when they ask me what I’m looking for, this is always a great one. After all, honesty is the best policy:

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Finally, when they asked me this golden interview question, I had my answer already prepped:

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But I digress. 

I would like to quote a recent documentary on the Alaskan wilderness, when I think of the battlefield that is love and recovery, “It’s easy to die up here. Everything else is work.”

So to answer my own question, how does one move on from lost love (and Iceland)? It’s a process of recovery, that’s for sure.

One does the best she can. She looks at aspects of her life she has the power to change, and works to make those better.

She puts one foot in front of the other, and takes steps every day. Even if they’re baby steps, she takes them.

She humbles and embarrasses herself every day, and shows those very feelings she wants to keep hidden most. She both laughs at and kicks herself daily.

She tries not to fade like a flower, and tries to find one little thing every day that makes her happy, however fleeting it may be.

She reaches out to old friends who won’t judge but will support and love her as they always have, just the way she is.

She remembers often and hard, and tries not to lose the joy in the moments with that person or in that place that made her feel most like herself.

She tries to find new happiness, and make new memories, even though it’ll never be the same.

She lets the open wound of her heart heal, and grows strong where the scarred tissue is ugliest. She has patience and doesn’t rush into putting that heart on the chopping block again. She even possibly accepts that some love wasn’t meant for her in this lifetime. Perhaps she has other lessons to learn and shouldn’t be so focused on just that one. She faces the world with gratitude, accepts the lessons meant for her, and accepts those not meant for her as well.

She just keeps going. She gets her ass to the gym, even if it seems futile and hopeless. She finds whatever spark she can to pick the mic back up and not lose touch with reality and herself. When she finds herself alone, lost at sea like Pi, she faces the tigers that come for her at night. She finds a way to survive, and still find beauty in the world.

There is so much, after all, beauty, that is. I echo the thoughts of the deceased Lester Burnham in American Beauty:

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”

Nostalgia and problem solving

Family Ties 1982-1989
Cheers 1982-1993
Who’s the Boss 1984-1992
Golden Girls 1985-1992
Perfect Strangers 1986-1993
Full House 1987-1995
The Wonder Years 1988-1993
Roseanne 1988-1997

What do all these sitcoms have in common? Despite all being at their height of fame in my formative years, they’re also all shows I’ve recently re-watched thanks to these select titles being available in the Netflix inventory. I even have Muppet Babies and Rainbow Brite on DVD to watch still, too.

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I grew up playing outside, playing roller hockey in the street with my left handed stick, or basketball using the hoop in my neighbor’s driveway. I played Mother-May-I with friends on our lawn and my Barbies lived in the hedgerow on sunny summer days, as I clamored for shade. No wonder I have a mild obsession with treehouses.

I played outside by day, during the time of the rotary and analog telephones, when there was no law requiring use of a seatbelt, and sitcoms were the evening entertainment when you came in for the night. My world was safe: school, kids on our street, suburbs. I never had problems big enough to warrant a mini series or a made for TV movie.

In my world, the world’s worst problems were solved in 22-24 minutes, with commercials in between. It’s easy to face the world’s worst problems when you expect them to be sorted within half an hour. And if you couldn’t solve the issue in that brief window of time, then it became special: a “to be continued” second episode, a mini series, a made for TV movie. However, standard problem resolution time according to my estimates at a young age was 22-24 minutes. So that should apply even today, right?

To quote Balki Bartokomous, “Don’t be ridiculous.” My childlike logic doesn’t quite hold in this world. Some problems, in fact most problems, don’t sort themselves out that quickly. Some problems we face span days, months, even years. Some are still unsolved.

Therefore, I blame my parents (and Disney and possibly most of the television line-up of the 80’s) for my completely unrealistic expectations of life, love, and of the world as an adult.

I can tell you right now, my problems are never solved in 22-24 minutes with commercials. However, my attention span seems capped at that as a direct result of my upbringing.

These precious TV shows unleashed in the present day from the deeply buried time capsules have brought back so many feelings of joy and innocence, mimicking the same feelings I felt upon initially watching them as a kid. They’ve been a warm blanket in which I burrito myself the last few months. Perhaps I’ve been subconsciously seeking comfort, but perhaps I just miss those simpler times. No smart phones. Just small problems and quick solutions.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2013, and now fully weaned from the antidepressant Zoloft I was on for over a year, I’m not cured by any means. I still have them, and they rear their ugly heads from time to time. Symptom management just becomes more of a process rather than a pill you pop every morning. It’s getting enough sleep at night, going to the gym to release endorphins naturally at least 4 times a week, getting sunshine, and eating a balanced/healthy diet to provide nutrients for optimum brain and body health.

Sometimes a sitcom tortilla is just the right medicine for those times when the happy chemicals in your brain seem to be a little low. They may not emulate real life in any way, but they nourish the nostalgia of an easier place and time, which is the platform for posing solutions to issues.

That in and of itself is a problem though – nostalgia isn’t quite what it used to be, either. In the book “Beyond Nostalgia: Aging and Life-story Writing”, psychologist Jeffrey Webster notes that the use of reminiscence for problem solving is lowest for adults age 60 and over. This means younger generations use reminiscence to solve problems much more often than the generation before us did. We don’t just look back to remember – we try to learn something from that past because we know it will repeat on us if we do not learn.

Feelings of pain, discomfort, lack of understanding, or loss of control spur us to seek solutions. We give our problems weight and significance, see ourselves as the protagonist, and attempt to then justify our lives. We look to the past for how we’ve seen examples of issues handled and problems solved, and do our best to replicate the thought process for optimum results in our current situation.

Perhaps re-watching those shows has restocked the library archives so when I go to the nostalgia rolodex, I can call up the tool I need to handle whatever situation comes my way.

I may not have my own personal Alex P. Keaton when I need him, but I can ask myself, What Would Tony Danza Do? What would Roseanne have to say about Woody the bartender’s advice about that? Kevin Arnold gets me; his interior monologue exposed exactly what I am thinking and feeling about it. Danny, Joey, and Jessie would give me the best advice with the best view of San Francisco out their window to make me a stronger woman.

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Catastrophic devastation

Before you continue reading my blog post, I urge you to read the article in the New Yorker, on which today’s post is based. It’s a long read, but it worth it. It blew my mind for sure. And I’ve been an avid dabbler in geology over the years, when it suits me, and when I can muster the interest and attention span. This one caught my attention for real, though.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

I have been saying this for years, the whole premise of this article, that is. The Pacific Northwest is sitting on a subduction zone that is not subducting. It’s constipated. That isn’t gonna be pretty when the Juan de Fuca plate suddenly decides to start moving under the coasts of Oregon and Washington. Like it’s enough to terrify me into moving out of San Francisco very soon because it’s a little too close for comfort.

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Coastal Oregon and Washington are in no way prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude. Not even California is, though it’s a little more used to the frequent, smaller earthquakes relieving some of that pent-up pressure. In Oregon and Washington, there are schools, homes for the elderly, hospitals, sitting on an inundation zone, should a tsunami occur after a catastrophic event in its own right.

However, what I did not have to help me in my argument all along against moving to the Pacific Northwest were facts and statistics. That we’re 315 years into an earthquake cycle that occurs roughly every 243 years. That a 9.0 Cascadia earthquake happened in 1700 when there are no real official records, but that caused a massive tsunami in Japan, and the Native Americans in Oregon to get religion, real fast. That dropped a forest into the ocean and killed it in a matter of seconds.

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I must admit, reading this article, I had a come-to-Jesus moment. My “earthquake preparedness kit” isn’t much of a kit at all. It’s 5 minutes I’ve left myself to collect anything that might cross my mind as useful which hasn’t already been damaged by said earthquake. Then I’d calm myself down, realize my apartment was the safest place to be and stay here, holed up until someone came for help. Riiiiight.

My plan wasn’t even to run. I live on a 4th floor apartment, so I had talked myself into staying here if anything happens. Sounds like my plan needs a massive overhaul. I looked up how many feet high 4 stories is last night, compared to the size of the tsunami which would ensue if that Cascadia quake happened. There could potentially be a tsunami from 20 feet to 100 feet high. An apartment on the 9th floor is 100 feet up. Well that just completely ruined my plan to stay put. My 4th floor apartment doesn’t seem so sturdy and safe anymore…

So I’m reformulating a new plan in case of disaster. Put on sneakers; bring spare undies, a few water bottles, a blanket, and then run up to either Twin Peaks or Buena Vista Park on Haight Street, to get high enough up in the case of the tsunami after the massive earthquake. That means extra time on the cardio machines at the gym so when D-day arrives, I can get myself up those hills in record time, for me. I’ve climbed waterfalls and hiked a volcano; I can do this. But keep training now for when that day comes.

In Iceland, the population is very aware of plate tectonics, and has numerous seismic alerts and warnings set for all the activity they are keeping an eye on, mostly to help serve as an early warning system to protect people. They live in a very geologically active place. America has all the technology, the tools, yet somehow lacks the sense of urgency to do the same.

On my trip, I heard a story of an Icelandic island that had to be evacuated in the middle of the night when a volcano began erupting unexpectedly, and it ended up that the inhabitants didn’t go home for over 30 years. When they went back into the home, covered in ash, everything was just as they left it. Grocery list on the kitchen counter. Cups in the sink. Those people got out in time, despite being permanently displaced and having to uproot their lives unexpectedly overnight. They were safe.

Even now, in the tiny southern seaside city of Vik, Iceland, the church and the hospital are on higher ground. The elementary school is on lower ground, but because Icelanders think children are much more capable of running to safety up a mountain than the elderly, which I think is a fair assumption. Vik is in a danger zone when it comes to a volcano erupting, and the nearby glacier flash-melting and flooding the valley. They at least designed their small town so that it wouldn’t be total devastation when something like that happens. Because they know it will. It’s just a question of when. But you try telling that to millionaire developers who developed the entire western seaboard of America without giving geology a second thought.

Despite living in California, where at least architecture and building standards allow for structural reinforcement to be up to code in the event of an earthquake, we don’t have the infrastructure or the small population for someone to come and warn me when they’ve been out for a walk and see a fissure emitting steam, or felt an earthquake that they know will have aftershocks. It makes me super nervous that there is nothing to alert me but my own common sense when I feel the mother of all earthquakes roll through, assuming I’m even awake. Maybe there will be an obnoxious city-wide alarm and some unintelligible voice saying something muffled. As the article says, “The nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass.” Ugh.

Want to freak out even more? Not convinced? Google the most recent California earthquakes map. More frequent, smaller magnitude quakes number somewhere over 100 in the last 7 days. Subduction is occurring under California. Now expand the map to go beyond California and see how many earthquakes on the whole Oregon coast occurred in the same period of time. 3. Clearly not moving up there. 

 

Or how about, according to the article, we have better odds to have the super catastrophic earthquake, than just a really fucking big earthquake? Scared now?

I figure I will wake up, if I’m not already awake, based on the article’s description of glass everywhere and everything not bolted down falling. I don’t have a dog or cat, so I won’t get the benefit of the early behavior they exhibit when the first waves come rolling through.

My first order of business when I get to a decent elevation? Find the panda and save it: 

 

After that… Well, who knows? 

Everything else after that needs some work in my emergency preparedness regime. I guess I should have that bag packed, have the spare water bottles now, and stock up on painkillers, beef jerky, and granola bars. So if you need me, I’ll be concentrating on my future safety and getting my kit up to snuff, and trying not to imagine the millions of Californians trying to do the same thing. It will be the end of days for my home, my beautiful state, and many of the people in it. The west coast will be completely devastated, if not gone. Power, water, sewage… California will be uninhabitable for years after an event like this. Maybe then the San Francisco landlords will stop gouging us on rent??? Probably not.

FEMA isn’t going to be able to cope with the demand in the area at all. It is the FEMA projections that estimate 27,000 injured and 13,000 dead… if the earthquake strikes at 9:41am on February 6, 2016. Nor will California’s, Oregon’s and Washington’s inhabitants be able to cope with the devastation and loss of everything they know. I lived through the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 (see my post “Shake, rattle, and roll” here); when the earth you have taken granted all your life begins shaking and nothing is reliable anymore, your entire outlook of this world changes.

Plus, when the catastrophic event occurs in the Pacific Northwest, don’t think for a moment that the rest of the Ring of Fire will remain silent. You can bet your sweet bippy that an event of that size will set off many other events, like possible earthquakes and plate movement in New Zealand, Chile, or Japan, or an extra-wide rift in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland where the earth crust is spreading and creating new land. One plate subducting will make room for lots of new lithosphere… just saying. Plus, who knows what an event that large and with such proximity to Yellowstone might do to set off a chain of events for a Yellowstone eruption shortly thereafter… let’s not go there. I’m already pretty nervous now, thanks.

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Our earth is very much alive, even if you tend not to think of it as so. And we are all just passengers enjoying the ride, watching the show.

Doppler effect in real life

It’s hard to perceive, when travel plans are coming at you with the full force of a siren, that there could be any kind of Doppler effect when it comes to adventures. Compared to the emitted frequency from my trip, the received frequency is higher during the approach, identical at the instant of passing by, and lower during the recession. It’s science; look it up.

Prior to leaving on my trip, all I could think about, all I could focus on, were the impending plans, hostels, what to pack, who and what I would be seeing, and louder still, the daily grind, the rat race in the workplace hamster wheel, yearning for that release to sabbatical mode. It was so loud, like a wailing ambulance zooming off to save a life.

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When you’re finally on that trip, and deep in it, it’s not quite so loud. You rushed and planned before, so you could slow down. You then take each day as it comes while traveling, and embrace the sense of adventure, heartbreak, accomplishment, and the facing of fears. You watch the sunset at the end of the day, knowing you lived that day. Or as close to sunsets as you can get in the land of the midnight sun.  If you’re successful, you’ve managed to forget all passwords, not think about what emails you might be “missing”, and removed the source of all work thoughts and the “grind” part from your daily routine. You can get comfortable in your surroundings, and finally enjoy the forest for the trees, or the boobs for the bed. As you like it.

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But after it’s over, the trip begins to recede. First, it’s your senses of your immediate environment. Suddenly, signs are in languages you can read with words you can recognize and pronounce, again. Then the ambient noise of conversations around you is suddenly understandable, again. The memories you made of smells and tastes begin to ebb away first, as if waking up from a dream; then, suddenly, if you didn’t take a picture of it, you perhaps can’t remember it actually happened.

When I was in Berlin, the soundtrack in my head was basically every Pink Floyd song from The Wall. One in particular, Comfortably Numb describes this post-travel Doppler recession.

“There is no pain; you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can’t hear what they’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now…”

I was performing my final sort on photos before posting them to my Flickr account today, and my photo editor crashed on me just as I started into the Berlin album. Nooooooo.

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Now, dear reader, what you may not know is that Berlin was one of the most sensitive times for me on this whole trip. A butt-load of feelers creeped in when I wasn’t looking, which were then exacerbated by moving experiences at concentration camps and other heavy historical sites, and I was a bit of a mess. It was bittersweet. Mostly bitter.

When my photo editor crashed, I lost a good 5-7 photos from the beginning of my walking tour, which commenced at Brandenburg Gate. Some of my best shots are now lost in my Macbook Air abyss and I’m absolutely inconsolable right now.

I had those images, and I had those few moments of memories in photos, and now, they are gone. Is this what a miscarriage is like? Not that I’m trying to poke fun or belittle the horrible experience. But as an artist, as a creator, I had a few pieces of work that I put effort and time and care into; they were made with love. I didn’t get a chance to birth them to my Flickr site, and now they are gone forever. So I shall pour one out for each of my lost photos, whimper a silent sob, and try to move on. Just know my Berlin album is missing some gems.

But the more important result of the above loss is that now my Flickr account finally has some albums on it. It’s now live! Go check it out! It’s under Photography in the menu above, or you can go straight to my albums here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/idigres/albums

I still have yet to tackle Bergen and Iceland photos for posting, and somehow this whole day got away from me, editing photos and posting them. I love how I spent my day today. I bathed in the memories of a portion of my trip. Suddenly work things were quiet again. I wasn’t thinking of the future, either. I could just be right there, in the moment. Even if my Swedish haircut is growing out from 5 weeks ago.

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It calmed my soul and almost made me feel like the whole experience wasn’t receding quite so fast. I got to go back to each of those beautiful places around the world again today, without a travel hangover or jetlag. But boy, am I tired now.

More to come from me, as I get totally caught up on my trip images, and continue immersing myself in this train wreck of daily life again, making this less and less of the travel blog it temporarily was, and more and more of the whatever the hell it is now.

Rough. Area.

Back to life, back to reality

This world is capable of moving me to tears, and much too frequently, if you ask me.

It was my first official day back in the office after two months on the road, and it couldn’t have made me miss being away more.

There are people in my life I miss. There are lyrics of songs floating around in my head. There are memories I’m grasping to hold before they slip away again of the last two months. To even imply I am vulnerable is a massive understatement.

Then, on my way home, a man in a sports coat with elbow patches read me the riot act on the streetcar. He told me I was in the way, complained about my backpack and how I wasn’t letting passengers through, and got quite aggressive and angry with me. He used curse words. It was amazing. I could not make this shit up.

My first reaction was, “Are you fucking kidding me?!?!” I may have even let that come out of my mouth; I can neither confirm nor deny.

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But then, I softened. I know that guy. That was me, in the city, before I left on my 2-month gallivant across Europe. He expelled at me with full force, and thus must internally carry with him, the resentment, hatred, and dissatisfaction he spit on my face, and the feeling of not being heard in his daily life I sensed with every fiber of his being.

I’ve felt that, too. God, I’ve fucking felt that. But having recently been the tourist in another country, barely or basically not knowing the language, I get the people that ride public transportation. It can be difficult to figure out, navigate, and understand the etiquette.

However, what this daft cow failed to recognize was that I live here; I was not breaching any protocols or showing poor muni etiquette. Yet, he felt it necessary to rip into me for something I’m still not sure I understand if I deserved. Brilliant. Great. Thanks for that. Goodbye, asshole.

I didn’t ask him how comfortable he was sitting in a seat for his whole ride while I stood. I didn’t ask him what it was like to get to be privileged and lashing out at a stranger.

Other events came to pass today, and this occurrence is by no means the sum of my day. I felt compelled to publicly share my understanding and compassion for another human being, because I shined when the good Lord tested me, despite how shitty my morning started, and how much this public transportation “situation” frustrated, embarrassed, and possibly slightly injured me.

We are all more fragile than we think. Every so often, we are reminded of our own humanity and mortality, and come face to face with those who may destroy us. We see ourselves in mirrors of other people. And we sing that Michael Jackson song in our heads, about making a change.

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I will wake up tomorrow and try again. I guess. Ugh. People, sometimes.

Sage advice or utter nonsense: the next ten years

Towards the end of my trip, my travel companion, Hank Moody, posed a seemingly simple question to me, for which I had no immediate answer. I’ve pondered it many a time since, and still shake my head in disapproving disappointment when I come up with yet another response that sounds like a tired cliché.

What can you do now to make the next ten years easier?

With 20/20 hindsight, that question would be easy to respond to if my 23 year old self asked me. I could tell her things like, “Limit the drinking to weekends, if you must. Call your dad more. Wear sunscreen. Don’t give your heart to people who won’t leave the pieces when they go.”

The problem with asking me at 33 for the 10 years until I’m 43 is that I can’t see into the future. I can pack a first aid kit, but who knows if I’ll even need the Neosporin and bandaids. I may need splints and chemo needles. No one knows.

I’ve compiled a brief list I think would generically cover a broad range of responses to that question, so bear with me as I impart some of my wisdom gained to you. Let me know if you agree, or if you think it’s total nonsense. It is, after all, a work in progress.

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1. Moisturize

Much like the graduation speech that became a song full of sage advice advising us to “wear sunscreen,” moisturizing in your 30’s is not to be underestimated. Since I turned this side of 30, I’ve noticed my skin visibly becoming drier. I’ve also noticed my priorities and fast-paced lifestyle can sometimes leave my skin neglected. It doesn’t have to be a fancy regime, just moisturize at least once per day, after a shower, or twice per day, one more time before bed to give those nutrients time to soak in to your skin overnight. I do not have a midlife crisis plan of selling grafts of skin to make high end leather wallets, so be kind to your largest organ.

2. Do something everyday (or as often as you can) that terrifies you

For the last two months, I was completely out of my comfort zone in somewhat-English speaking countries. I climbed waterfalls, descended into volcanoes, stayed at hostels. I listened without having any planned response that brought the discussion back to me. That feeling of not being in your usual routine, of having just the slightest bit of fear, leads you to take calculated risks, and the return from taking those risks can be immensely rewarding. Challenge yourself, keep moving, and don’t let yourself go soft. Once you do, it’s a downhill road. Start over as many times as you need to – anyone who judges you for wiping your own slate clean probably is too scared to do it themselves. And don’t wait – life is short, and waiting could mean missing out.

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3. Exercise regularly

I’m not saying start training for the Olympics, a triathlon, iron man competitions, or anything crazy. Just move your body. I stopped going to the gym for two months while I was away, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get the physical exertion needed to make me tired at night. Boy, was I way off. I gained callouses on my hips where my backpack rubbed relentlessly from urban hiking. My legs grew stronger with all the stairs at the hostels, all the stairs in London, Paris and Rome combined, and the uneven terrain in Iceland that made just normal walking hard. Walk. Ride a bike. Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others; just do what feels right for you.

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4. Dream

Figure out what matters to you, and do that. Want to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life? Write a book? Adopt a child if having one “naturally” doesn’t seem to be working? Do that, then. Life is too short to do something that doesn’t make you happy. For a long time, and sometimes still even now, I don’t know what matters to me. I know that I’ve been looking for happiness, companionship, and a relationship which matters to me. I’m looking for a heaven for the devil in me (thanks Florence, for that golden lyric.) For that, I need people in my life who matter to me. So there’s been a subtle process of weeding out those who simply don’t matter to me. Maybe you dream of a better job, more time to explore what matters to you. In those two months I took a sabbatical from work, from responsibility, and from life in many ways. I didn’t figure it all out, but I do know I got closer to the real me and who I am without those stresses of everyday life.

5. Collect experiences, not things

We all know people who love to shop. They collect mementos and souvenirs from vacations and memorable experiences. Some have extensive collections of clothes and shoes. I am one, who, in order to maintain the small apartment and modest living to which I’ve become accustomed, cannot be a hoarder. On this two month trip, I collected some souvenirs, little things I liked. But mostly, I collected experiences. I collected photos – selfies at recognizable monuments and attractions, beautiful scenery I saw with my own eyes, and stories, oh, the stories. At the end of the day, when I must go from this earth, no one will attach the sentimentality I did to my set of Russian dolls or Viking horn, and those things will go with the rest of the lot to the goodwill or salvos for repurposing and redistribution. But those experiences my Facebook friends saw me posting for two months will contribute to what they know of me, and I can live on through them and what they share of me. That’s far more of a legacy than some key chains or shot glasses.

6. Make deposits and withdrawals

Save for retirement, save for a house, save for a graduate degree, save for vacations. I said earlier to have a dream, and for those who dream big, that usually requires a cash outlay far grander than anything within our monthly cash flow. Save and be frugal; but not at the expense of the present. Make withdrawals, too. Use your savings and book that 2 month trip gallivanting through Europe and Scandinavia. Be smart with your money, but balance that with maintaining some comfortability in the present. Maybe you’re saving money by cooking dinner in every night, but splurge on your favorite coffee while you sit with your laptop making next month’s budget and savings plan, or paying bills. Have a set of nice China, but use it sometimes, too. Life is a collection of moments, and do what you can to make as many of those moments sweet and full of life, now and in the future.

7. Drink more water; drink less alcohol

My 23-year-old self still disagrees with drinking less alcohol, as she wouldn’t want me to get soft and become more of a lightweight than I already am when it comes to holding my booze. But really, alcohol really ages you. Those hangovers do make you look as heinous as you feel. I know, I’ve had thousands of them. On average, I drink 4 32-oz (1L) Nalgene bottles of water a day. I forget that I am pretty good at drinking water, and every so often a friend will witness this subconscious daily ritual and congratulate me on being so disciplined. Water is good for us, the ultimate hydration tool, remover of hangover, maker of soft skin, and preventer of overeating oral fixation. While I’m on it too, remember portion control, but eat the foods you love, too. Eat fruits and vegetables, but if you love chocolate, treat yourself.

8. Try not to worry what anyone else thinks of you

This is a hard one. Growing up, we are conditioned to care what everyone else thinks, in order to form our own opinions and outlooks on the world. We are taught to fit in and to conform, then when we get to college and the real world, we are expected to stand up and stand out, fearlessly. I’m fairly good at this one already. I burp when I need to, even if it’s mid grocery store. If I have a wedgie after getting off of the stationary bike at the gym, then by golly, I will pick it right there and then. Of course, I obsess over whether the object of my affection thinks I said the right thing or did something stupid, too. There is always an interior monologue that second guesses myself (much like Baby in Dirty Dancing, when she mutters under her breath, “I carried a watermelon?!?!”) But, as often as you can get away with, try not to overthink things or worry too much about what anyone else thinks. Do you, the best way you know how. Be a good person; don’t be an asshole. Sometimes though, you need to do something for you that may have negative consequences on another human being. Be kind and gentle, but do what you need to do for you. Put your oxygen mask on first, people.

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9. Get massages

Beyond the healing effects of human touch, massages loosen long-built-up toxins in your body tissue, and allow the endocrine system to work through blockages. Getting massages regularly helps to build more lean muscle mass and get the circulation going through your body. It lets your body let go of toxic substances and sometimes, toxic thoughts, too. I don’t get nearly enough of them. If I had my way, I’d have one per week. Maybe the right balance for you is once every month or couple of months. Get Thai, Swedish, hot stone, whatever kind of massage you can handle. Allow yourself to be touched and not be ashamed it. It will reconnect you with the body you beat yourself up over for not being perfect, and let you learn to love it again. Whatever you do, be it getting massages, or mani/pedi’s, or eyebrow waxes, do it for you, to make you feel better about yourself. That’s the whole point. Be pretty for you.

10. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. Walk more, and often. Get a colonic. Dance.

OK, so my attempt at making a top 10 list has gone awry and #10 has become a hodge-podge of remaining advice that couldn’t be inserted elsewhere here. But the general message is clear.

Be as good to yourself as you know how. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

It takes 10 times longer to put yourself back together than it does to fall apart. Trust me, I’ve fallen apart once or twice. You still somehow hope, think, insist, that someone, or some things are worth falling apart for. That’s where you’re wrong.

Don’t give away your power. It’s the things we love most that destroy us because we let them have that power. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For those still hopelessly using the metric system, my point is, a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.

So don’t wait until you’re 30 or 40 or some other round number to think about the next 10 years. It’s a moving target, and it starts now. What will you do?